Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 3 of 6

The travelers found a place among the trees and behind a rise in the landscape where they felt they could build a fire without attracting too much human attention.  Boston and Katie bagged a deer, and Alexis found some greens that were better, not bitter, and some tubers that boiled up real nice.  Decker, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Elder Stow climbed to a place on the rise and in the trees where they could watch the village and the Gott-Druk spaceship.  Decker brought his binoculars and night goggles.  Lockhart got the same equipment from Katie, which Lincoln kept borrowing. Elder Stow contented himself with what his scanner could show him.

“They have shrines near the middle-top of the hill,” Lincoln said.  “I would guess Greek gods with Roman names, like Jupiter instead of Zeus and Pluto instead of Hades.”

“I wonder if Saturn is still around,” Lockhart said.  “I recall the Kairos mentioning that he got confined to Italy to keep him off Mount Olympus.  The Kairos said in his passive-aggressive way, Saturn insisted on different names for the gods in his jurisdiction.”

“Not really a different jurisdiction,” Lincoln said.  “Still part of the Greco-Roman jurisdiction in southern Europe.  Zeus threw his father, Cronos into the deepest pit of Hades. He spared his grandfather, Saturn, but confined him to Italy, sort of like a big prison cell.”

“I see three main gates on the wall,” Decker said, interrupting the conversation that neither man knew honestly what they were talking about.  Lincoln had the database and could read about it, but that was not what they were there for.

“I have scanned for Gott-Druk life-signs,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “They seem to be confined to the island.”

“I see several fires,” Lockhart agreed, and Lincoln reached for the binoculars.

“No indication they have seen us, or even that they are looking in our direction.”

“Atypical behavior for the Gott-Druk,” Decker said.  “I would have expected them in the village, making the humans cower and bow down to them.”

Elder Stow frowned.  “You have a very low opinion of my people.”

“Nothing personal,” Lockhart said. “But it is the behavior we have seen and what has been reported about your people.”

Elder Stow took a deep breath and nodded. “But here, the ship parked on the island has some armament and weapons, probably a necessity for space travel, but it does not appear to be a warship.  I would guess it is more like a merchant ship, a freighter of some sort.”

“There’s a twist,” Decker said.

Lockhart lowered the night goggles. It was hardly dark enough yet to make them worthwhile.  “I would say giving these early Romans access to heat rays would be even more dangerous to history than the old Gott-Druk way of taking over and trying to make slaves of the human race.”

“I don’t know how we can get into the village and get Evan without causing an uproar,” Lincoln said.

“The presence of my people does complicate things,” Elder Stow agreed.

Lockhart also agreed.  “Especially if they are on a peaceful trade mission.”

“So, we find the Kairos first?” Decker made it a question, but it seemed the only solution to him.  Throughout their journey, he had learned that the Kairos inevitably knew what was happening, and had some idea how to deal with otherwise impossible situations.

No one objected as they scooted off the rise and returned to the camp.  They found the horses cared for and set for the night, and food cooking, but they all imagined they would be up for a time of debate.  Everyone needed a chance to put in their two cents, and then Lockhart needed to keep them together long enough to do whatever the consensus decided.

###

In the morning, Lockhart felt unhappy, but nothing he could do about it.  Lincoln and Alexis insisted on edging up to the farm fields, where they figured most of the people would come out to participate in the spring planting.  When the workers came out, they imagined they might find Evan and whisk him to safety.  There was one place where the trees came right up to the edge of the fields. They would have a good view of the fields and the village from there, while they could stay hidden.  Lincoln insisted someone had to stay and keep an eye on the village.  Besides, they found a trail they could ride to the river if they needed to evade pursuit.

“We still have the wrist communicators to keep in touch,” Alexis reminded everyone.

Lincoln got to say it.  “I keep forgetting about these things.”

Lockhart could not argue, but he made Katie give Lincoln her binoculars and Alexis the prototype amulet, so Alexis and Lincoln could find the next time gate if they got separated from the rest of the group.  He made Lincoln give Katie the database in case Lincoln got captured.  He figured if the Gott-Druk could figure out how to read it, they might learn some things about the future that they should not know.

Elder Stow, perhaps worse, insisted on checking out the Gott-Druk present on the island in the river.  Sukki would go with him.  He made her swallow a big pill which he said would pass in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, he could use his equipment to make her invisible when he went invisible.  He had a few invisibility disc relays, but insisted the pill was more certain and better for something like this.

“I will try to talk with them to see what their intentions may be,” Elder Stow said.  “I will try to suggest they need to not be here, but I don’t know how they may respond.  Invisibility is just a precaution.”  Lockhart did not object until Elder Stow added a note.  “It would probably be best if you keep the horses with you.  I can levitate us to the island, but visible, flying horses would not work well.”

“It is going to be hard enough trying to wend our way through farms and hamlets to get to the back of the hill where the Kairos is located without giving ourselves away.”  Lockhart complained, but they took the horses.

###

Decker and Katie rode out front, armed and ready for whatever might present itself.  Lockhart and Boston followed, each bringing an extra horse with them.  In this way, they approached the river, prepared to swim across where it got deep, but they found a surprise waiting for them on the riverbank.  A centaur.

“Welcome.  I am Colon, prince of the mountain pastures where my family makes its home.  I have come at the urging of the gray-haired faun, to guide you to the goddess of time.” He smiled.  It felt like a big speech for the brute.

“I don’t suppose Dionysus is around anywhere,” Decker said, a frown on his face.

“Silenus in this place,” Katie said.

“No.  I am quite sober,” Colon responded

“Eh?” Lockhart asked, and Katie explained.

“The centaurs in legend are well known for their wild, drunken orgies, and attempts to ride off with women, to molest them.”

Colon’s eyes grew big.  “You are an elect, as strong and capable as a demigod,” Colon objected, without denying anything.  “You must think me mad to wish to offend you.”

“Just so we understand each other,” Katie said.

“But to be sure, I have also come to see the red-haired girl, the wisest of the wise.  Clopsus the Great said you would be among the travelers, and I am deeply honored to meet the one told of in our legends down through all the centuries.”

“Um…Thanks,” Boston swallowed.

“And it is even as I have been told. You have become as an elf, even a high elf, and a princess among all the elves”

“Princess?”  Lockhart asked, and grinned.

“As in, Disney?” Decker smiled at her.

“Shut-up,” Boston said.  “Truscas had a big mouth.  Can we get going?”

“Of course,” Colon said.  “If you will follow, I will endeavor to lead you in a safe way for my distant cousins that you ride, and away from the human scum.”

“Shows you where we rate,” Decker said.

Lockhart had to tug on the reigns of Elder Stow’s horse to get his nose out of the grass at his feet.  “Come along, cousin,” he said.

###

Elder Stow and Sukki landed among the few trees on the island.  “It will not hurt to look and listen first,” he said.  “Caution is a good thing.”

“Yes, father.”  Sukki lowered her eyes.

Elder Stow smiled for the girl. “You are a good daughter, even if you are adopted.  I wish my daughters by the flesh were as cooperative.”

“Oh, children need to respect their parents,” Sukki said, in complete sincerity.

“My Abella argues all the time, about everything,” Elder Stow said, as he got out his scanner and adjusted several settings.

“Arguing shows a lack of respect. She should at least respect that you are her father.  How old is she?”

Elder Stow paused to think before he answered.  “She is thirty earth years.”

Sukki drew in her breath.

“I am fifty-two,” Elder Stow said.  “And no, I did not have a bite of the apple of youth as Lockhart, Lincoln and Alexis had. I am an honest fifty-two.”

“But…I never heard of many Gott-Druk who lived much after forty.  Forty-five is very old.  I heard one old woman lived to forty-eight, but fifty sounds unbelievable.”

“You come from the deep past.  I understand,” Elder Stow told her.  “But in the future, we have found ways to take better care of ourselves.  My father died at the ripe old age of eighty-six”

Sukki’s eyes got big s she calculated “He was still having children at thirty-six.  But that is so old.”

“Thirty-four, and not so old in the future. Now hush.”  Elder Stow looked at his results.  “It is an ancient Sky-Skimmer; a merchant vessel as I surmised.  Crew of twenty, though quite big.  Minimal weapons, but new-ion driven.  We have made it to the photon age. They might not have a photon bomb, but possibly a gravitron bomb.  Honestly, I am not as conversant with that age in history to say for sure.”

“I did not understand a word you said,” Sukki admitted.  “Why am I here?”

“So I have company.  It is important for families to do things together. Besides, if we have to reveal ourselves, you will not be out of place.”

“Yes, Father,” Sukki said, and with some joy at the idea of being family.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers have split up.  Everyone has their assignment.  We shall see how things work out… or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 2 of 6

In the morning, the travelers found people on the beach, and some rough-looking fishing boats in the water, not far from the shore.  The travelers got up quietly and tried not to attract attention.  Boston woke everyone with a warning to keep quiet, while Sukki kept an eye on the people.  Lockhart opted not to build up the fire.  They chewed on what they had, packed what they could carry, and got ready to ride.

“No sign of Aneas,” Lincoln stated the obvious.

“I have a feeling he will show up.” Lockhart was not worried.  He recognized it took a great deal of courage for the fauns to contact them as they did. “Their distress must be real and serious, and I imagine they will not miss the chance to solve their problem.”

“I was thinking,” Katie said. “Maybe their dimension is more in line with the fourth dimension of time.  They may be in tune with the man’s distress because of his time displacement.”

“You mean because he is out of his own time,” Lockhart put it in his own words.  “And maybe that is how they found us and knew who we were.”

Katie nodded.

“An excellent suggestion,” Elder Stow said, as he mounted.  “The little bit of data I gathered might suggest something like that.”

As Elder Stow got up on his horse, Sukki and Boston scooted down from the ledge where they watched the humans on the beach.  Sukki got right up, being a much-improved horsewoman.  Boston grew up riding rodeo in Massachusetts.  She leapt up on Honey, her horse, and could ride rings around the rest of them.

“Are we ready to ride?” Decker asked.

Lockhart nodded and pushed forward. They had to come through the gap in the rocks single file.  They tried not to rush, but the women down the beach who saw them and screamed did not help.

Once they started up the shoreline, they quickly got out of range of the screamers.  Shortly, they turned inland and imagined they would not be followed. They had seen some horses used to pull the plow, and saw a chariot once, but they had not seen any horsemen in the villages, so they were not too worried.  Elder Stow’s scanner spotted a village up the shore, so they had to turn inland in any case.  But they figured they could outrun any men who followed them on foot.  They already had.

It did not take long before they found Aneas and his two companions waiting for them.  Lockhart pushed out front and called to the gray-haired faun. He had instructions.  He got down, thinking Aneas might fear the horse, but the horse did not appear to be the faun’s problem.  Clearly, Lockhart himself made the faun wary, then Lockhart remembered the faun mentioned the centaurs who still lived in the mountains and figured the horse might be no big deal   He got ready to speak, but Aneas spoke first.

“We will stay out front, and you may follow.”

‘Fine and well.  We will keep our distance as long as you don’t lose us. Keep in mind, the path you choose must be acceptable for the horses.”

“I understand.  We will go the way of the centaurs so you will have no hardship.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Also, it would probably be better if we stayed away from other people.”

“We are so inclined.”

Lockhart nodded again.  “Also, it would be best if we had some warning when we come near the village where the man is kept prisoner.  It would be better to see it secretly from a distance and decide on the best approach.”

Aneas paused to think, and finally shrugged.  “I do not understand humans.  You do not care for each other, and even hurt each other and hurt everything else.  I do not understand why you should not ride in and say, “Hello neighbor”.  But your ways are not our ways.  I will do as you ask.”

Lockhart did not nod that time. “All the same,” he said.  “One more question. Does the man have a name?”

To Lockhart’s surprise, the faun smiled a little at the question.  “One of our kind has made a song of the name.  It is Evan Cecil Emerson, Assistant Professor of Antiquities in Latin and Greek.  It seems a ponderous, long name, even for a human.”

“Thank you.  We will do our best to help.”  Lockhart turned and got ready to ride.  He realized he forgot to ask about lunch, but he imagined it was too late. The fauns stood ready, but looked uncertain about the humans.  “Burn that bridge when we come to it,” Lockhart mumbled.

“What bridge? Katie asked.

Lockhart waved her off.

The fauns led them all day by a path that in some places almost appeared to be a dirt road.  Katie imagined the future Appian way, and said so.  They never saw any people, and sometimes wondered if any people lived in the area, though they felt certain some did.  One time, they climbed a hill and saw what looked like smoke in the distance.  They could not be sure.  The fluffy-white clouds, gray on the bottom, sat low in the sky and melted into the horizon. It might have been a piece of a cloud, or something smoldering from the thunderstorm two days earlier.  It might have been a fire built by some of those centaurs Aneas talked about.

Lunch did not take long.  The fauns disappeared.  The travelers did not build a fire, so they only had smoked leftovers to chew on, a breakfast repeat.  Alexis and Sukki found some grapes and greens.  The grapes were not quite ripe, and the greens tasted bitter, but it would sustain them.

Elder Stow pulled out his scanner to read what might be on the horizon.  Decker meditated to let his eagle totem lift him into the sky for a similar look around.  Both reported the mix of woods and fields covering seven hills on the other side of a river.

“Every hill appears to have collections of buildings,” Elder Stow said.  “I would only call three villages.  The rest would be hamlets, or family farms and homes; though it seems to me they are all relatively close to each other, and building closer.  Soon enough, the fields and pastures will begin to disappear under buildings.”

“Farmers and shepherds, for the most part,” Decker agreed.  “But I hope they are all good neighbors.  If they keep building, it won’t take long until the whole area looks like urban sprawl.”

“The main village, at least the biggest one, appears on the center hill, and built on the side where the people can overlook the river.  They probably watch for river traffic and whatever trade might go up and down the river. They probably also watch for enemies.”

“Enemies, for sure,” Lockhart said. “All of the different tribes around here do seem to hate each other.”  Decker agreed, but then he reported on something different.

“The fauns appear to be angling us up above a bend in the river, north of the town-hill, to a place where the river and a large field of a sort stand between where we are headed and the villages and people on the hills.”

“Rome,” Katie named the seven hills.

“Agreed,” Lincoln checked the database. The villages and people on the seven hills would one day be Rome.

“I imagine the fauns intend to give the people a wide berth,” Lockhart suggested.

“Boss,” Boston spoke up.  She had her amulet out to check what she could see, though the map on the amulet remained skimpy on most details.  “I can see where the Kairos is located, like near a village, but a little north.”

“Likely in his own place on the back side of the hill,” Elder Stow said.

“Her place,” Lincoln corrected the Gott-Druk.  “Valencia, the Kairos in this life is a her.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said, graciously. “It is hard to keep up with the him and her changes.”

“You got that right,” Decker mumbled.

“Let’s see where the fauns lead us,” Lockhart concluded.  “We may be going around the seven hills to some other town further away.  After we get Cecil, we may have to backtrack to see Valencia.”

“Evan,” Boston blurted out.  “Not Cecil.”

“Evan,” Alexis agreed.

“Evan,” Lincoln supported his wife.

Lockhart looked at Katie who shrugged. “Professor Emerson?”

It did not take long after lunch to reach the river.  They stayed in the shadow of the woods, but saw the distant village on the hill. They also found an island in the river, and everyone reacted, though they did not stop for a good look.

“I remember that island,” Boston told Sukki. “Truscas the Centaur carried me across the river there.  Saturn’s house sat at the top of the hill, there.”

“Palatine Hill has had some occupation since back before the flood,” Katie told Lockhart and the girls. “Early Neolithic, that is stone age.”

“My people are familiar with the area,” Elder Stow said.  “It was one of our gathering places in the before times.”

Decker got Elder Stow’s attention and pointed.  He saw something shine on the island.  He got out his binoculars.  Elder Stow got out his scanner.

“Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow reported. “They are powered down and well camouflaged, like they were when we found them on Malta.”

“I did not see them from the sky,” Decker admitted.

Katie looked and handed her binoculars to Lockhart, who also caught a glimpse before the trail took them more deeply into the woods.

“Well,” Lockhart said, as he returned Katie’s binoculars.  “Looks like we will have to backtrack and find the Kairos for sure.”

“The Gott-Druk do not belong there,” Lincoln said.  He had started getting good at stating the obvious.

After that, they quickly came to another small hill beside the river, but on the near side.  The fauns stopped, and Aneas approached the humans, carefully. Lockhart and Katie dismounted and walked out to meet him.  They tried not to scare him.

“Our home is in this place,” Aneas said.

“Vatican hill,” Katie called it.

“There is nowhere on this planet where the sickness of violence does not intrude.  But mostly, in this place, there is peace.”  Katie and Lockhart looked around.  They felt the calm in the air, and the sense of peace that pervaded the area.  No doubt, they sensed the faith and quiet contemplation that would fill the area in the centuries to come, but they never would have understood it if they were not time travelers who knew where they were.

Aneas spoke again.  “The man from the future is captive in the village you saw across the river.  The goddess of time lives in a cave near there.  If you are willing to take him into the future with you, you will have our gratitude, forever.”  He stepped behind a tree and was not present anymore.

Katie and Lockhart held hands as they walked back to Lincoln and Alexis who held their horses.  Alexis had a suggestion.

“We could camp here tonight.”  It sounded like a question.  “We might be far enough away from people where we can build a fire and honestly get a night’s rest.”

Katie shook her head.  “We should not violate this place with our humanity.”

“No,” Lockhart answered Alexis directly. “We have to backtrack to a place where we can keep an eye on the village, and on the island.  Then we will need to decide what to do in the morning.”

“I got some good data,” Elder Stow told Boston.  “But it will take some serious study to understand it.”

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 1 of 6

After 761 BC Before Rome. Kairos lifetime 75: Valencia, Mother Wolf

Recording …

“I remember this place,” Boston shouted. “Last time we came here, Roland, Father Mingus, Truscas the Centaur, and I had to try and get Silenus to help us sober up Saturn so he could get all of you out of Pan’s dance.”

“Y’all,” Decker said.  “To get all y’all out of Pan’s dance.”

“Yeah,” Boston agreed.  “You were going to dance the whole month, but you-all would not have survived that.”

“Hopeless,” Decker said.

Boston turned her joy to sorrow as fast as a fee.  “I miss Roland.”

“He is in the future, waiting for you,” Alexis said, quickly.  “I feel certain of that.”

Boston nodded, but still sniffed.

“Are we going to get in trouble this time?” Sukki asked.  She had not been there the last time, but she grew concerned about needing to be rescued. All told, though she was homo-Neanderthal rather than homo-Sapiens, she behaved, a good girl who did not like conflict, and she did not want to be in trouble.

“We will be fine this time,” Katie said.

“I hope,” Lockhart mumbled, and Katie elbowed him softly.

Lincoln sat up, put a log on the fire, and cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “So, Valencia.” People quieted to listen.  “She is Etruscan.  We should pass through the entire Etruscan home territory.  Near as I can figure, judging from Boston’s clues, we came into this time zone somewhere below Naples.  We should pass through Rome, which probably isn’t there yet, and exit somewhere beyond Pisa.  No leaning tower there yet, either.”

“So, Valencia is in Rome, about the mid-point?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln shrugged.  “Rome is on the edge of Etruscan territory, and the map in the database suggests there are two Etruscan towns, I guess cities, close by. I would guess she is somewhere in there, depending on how old she is.”

“Always the question,” Elder Stow said, and he got up to head for bed.  They had been in this time zone for three days, but this was the first chance they had to relax and ask about what they might be facing.  They spent the previous days avoiding tribes of humans and hostile villages.  Apparently, no one trusted anyone else in that part of the world.  They had to ride hard to escape several roving bands of men, and had twice been attacked, once in the night.  They had to be ready to move at night, and had to get up extra early to be gone by the time the locals arrived.  Here, they found a sheltered cove by the beach where a large rock blocked their firelight and rocky ridges sat securely at their back.

“So, Valencia has red hair,” Lincoln started to give the details.

“Woo-hoo!” Red-headed Boston shouted, before she grabbed her tongue.  They had visitors, and not ordinary visitors.  “Sorry,” Boston whispered.  “My radar is set for humans.”

An old gray-haired faun hobbled up from the beach, followed by two younger fauns.  it felt unusual to see them.  Fauns were notoriously shy.  It felt doubly odd to hear the gray-haired one speak.

“Pardon.  Forgive me.  My name is Aneas, or that is what you may call me.  You are the people from the future?”

The travelers appeared shocked. Memories of Pan’s dance that Boston spoke about bubbled up in their minds from more than two years ago in their journey.  That happened more than three thousand years ago, real time, but the images felt like yesterday.  They remembered goat-hooved Pan, the satyrs and nymphs, the fermented grapes; and most of the images felt embarrassing, like images they would just as soon forget.

Elder Stow, not with the dancers at that time, fiddled with something on his scanning device.  Sukki, as usual, looked around and waited for someone else to speak.

Since no one else appeared willing to answer, Boston said, “Yes, that’s right.”

Aneas nodded.  “You are the red-headed elf that was once human.  And your friend is of the elder race, as is the one who looks like the old man.  The dark one is your defender.  This man here has knowledge I must not see, and his wife is the black-haired witch who used to be an elf.  The other man there is the leader of this expedition, and his wife is the golden-haired one-in-a-million elect.  Am I correct?”

People looked at each other before Lockhart finally spoke.  “Clearly, you know us, but what can we do for you?”

Aneas and the two behind him appeared to let out collective sighs of relief.  No telling what kind of a reception they feared they might get. The travelers got the impression that being seen by humans was a rarity, and talking to humans amounted to something that never, ever happened.  The travelers understood that fauns might be more than just shy.  The appeared fearful and timid people as well.

“There is another, a human male that does not belong here.  The centaurs that still hide in the mountains have discerned that he came here from the future.  He has been taken captive by the ones who first came here on ships from the sea. He is made to toil for them, but his labor is not appreciated.  We have seen how he is treated.  I cannot begin to imagine I know anything about human behavior.  Only, I would not care to be treated that way.”

Aneas paused to think, so Alexis asked, “What would you have us do?”

“He cries out day and night for Mildred. I do not know what a Mildred is. And sometimes he cries for Professor Fleming.  I cannot imagine such a thing.  But his heart cries, not just his mind, you see?  His heart cries, and we hear the heart, and feel all the pain he feels. It disturbs the little ones so they cannot sleep.”

“I understand,” Alexis said.  “But what are you asking of us?”

“We were wondering if you might be willing to take him back into the future with you.  It might be that he can find his Mildred there, do you think?  In any case, we might have a little peace.”

“Which direction?” Boston asked, and got out her amulet, the one that showed the location of the time gates. Aneas pointed, and Boston said, “Yes. That is right.”

“How will we find him?” Lockhart asked the practical question, assuming the man, after a time, would appear no different than any other local.  Besides, he knew his group needed to avoid human contact wherever possible, knowing that most of the time it would not be possible.  They had discussed it and agreed that from this point going forward, it would be best to avoid doing something that might throw history off track. Of course, that had been impossible since entering this time zone, but the sentiment was there.  Indeed, their trouble caused the topic to come up, and they agreed in theory.  Katie offered the summary.

“Right now, and for a few more centuries, depending on where we land, we probably won’t make much of a ripple. History is still mostly verbal and memories.  But we need to practice, because from here on, history is beginning to be written.   The future does not need a record of ancient time travelers, even if most in our day would cross it off as an ancient conspiracy theory, like bigfoot or ancient aliens.”

“We have seen our share of ancient aliens,” Lockhart teased.

“You know what I mean,” Katie said, grinned, and elbowed him softly in the ribs.

Aneas answered Lockhart’s question plainly.  “We will take you to him.”

“Fine,” Lockhart said.  “But we have had a harrowing few days since coming here.  We need a good night’s sleep, and the horses are not made for the wilderness in the dark.”

“We will return in the morning to guide you.” Aneas said.

“Would you care to join us?” Alexis asked, pointing to the warm fire and the food still smoking to eat and take in the morning.

“Meat,” Aneas said, with a shake of his head.  Without a further word, he and his two companions turned and vanished.  Elder Stow let out a sound of surprise that sounded as close as he ever got to an expletive.

“They did not run off faster than the eye could see, or go invisible, or teleport to some other place on the planet,” he said.  “As near as I can tell, they slipped out of this world altogether.  I mean, they were here, solid and real.  The scanner is still analyzing that data.  But then they went…somewhere.  I would guess, from the data, they slipped into another universe. I don’t mean a temporal universe, like a parallel earth.  I mean a spatial universe, or physics universe, or another dimension.”  He went back to fiddling with his scanner.

Everyone sat quiet and thought, not sure they understood, so they were not sure what to ask.  Decker changed the subject.

“So much for not interfering with the locals.”

“Yes.”  Katie and Lockhart agreed.

“Do you think we should find the Kairos first?” Lincoln wondered.

Alexis responded.  “If this man is from the future, he is a risk to the present if he does not know any better.  I would think the Kairos will be glad to have us take him out of harm’s way.”

“Besides,” Sukki spoke, and everyone paused to listen.  “It does not sound like he is being treated well at all.”

No one said the words slavery or torture, but they all thought them.

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 6 of 6

Artie explained.

“We found a good world, not far away, and made it our new home.  The beautiful Anath-Rama brought us a village of humans to help us grow our daily bread and learn the ways of the earth.  I had a son, and he had good people around him, to love him.  It took real effort, but soon enough we had androids and humans living together, in peace.  We made a good world; but then we got attacked, twice, over two hundred years.  Some got killed.  The humans could reproduce and repopulate, but we could not. All of our efforts proved fruitless.” Artie took a deep breath.  “When the Anazi world got destroyed, the secret of self-aware, true, living android people became lost.  We have made super intelligent robots, but they are only robots…”  She let her voice trail off, and looked at Ibelam.

“I cannot tell you how to do that,” Ibelam said.  “Some future lives might know, but I have no idea.”

Artie’s eyes shifted to Elder Stow, but he shook his head.  “It is not a secret, but I don’t know…I don’t think I can say…I don’t know.” Elder Stow also looked at Ibelam, who shook his head as well, before he spoke.

“None of my future lives are willing to tell.  I don’t know if that is because you are not supposed to know the secret or because you have to find out for yourselves.  But I will tell you what I know.  Your robots remain robots because I am sure your programming is perfect, and without flaws.  Life requires a miracle.  It happens like magic, or by chance accident, or by what you might call a glitch in the program, and not just any flaw will do.  But by reason and logic, you will never find it.”  Elder Stow nodded, and Ibelam continued.

“It is like finding God’s perfect plan for your life.  You can sit and think all day, and never find it.  There will be things in life that you will never understand, even things that don’t make much sense to reason, logic, or thinking really hard.  You can submit to the almighty and have things revealed, or be led to things.  You may stumble upon things and have them confirmed from above.  But the truth is, for reasons God alone knows, some never discover their purpose in this life.  Some seek haphazardly, or quit seeking after a time.  And altogether too many conclude that everything is just an accident, and they never start seeking in the first place.”

“I have known a few like that,” Alexis said, softly.

“Let me also say this,” Ibelam said. “Never quit seeking.  Never quit asking.  Never quit knocking.  You might never find, or fully find what you are seeking, but if you trust the almighty, you will find what is necessary—what is right, good and true.”

“The almighty?” Artie asked.

“Anath-Rama’s god,” Ibelam answered. “The one she calls the source.”

Artie lowered her head again to think, but continued her tale.  “We became explorers over these last couple of centuries.  We needed to head off any future attacks, if possible, but also, we went looking for the key to life.  We are slowly becoming less.  Someday, we may all be gone to Anath-Rama’s paradise.”  Artie quit speaking.  She had to consider Anath-Rama’s god.  Her thoughts were like a prayer, though she did not know it.  It helped when Mother Katie scooted over and hugged her.

General Redfern took up the telling. “About a hundred years ago, we discovered the Humanoids in space.  They appear to have risen to the top in this sector of the galaxy, and they have no interest in peaceful relations.  We have lost ships, and people.  We appear to be targeted as rivals.  We are becoming less, and outside of David, and the colony of mostly humans around him, we have found no way to replicate ourselves.”

 “They came out from behind a dwarf star and surprised us,” Artie interjected. “We did not even see them until they were right on top of us.  I headed straight to earth, and they appeared to keep their distance.”

Captain Korman spoke up.  “An analysis of their propulsion system and weapons suggests a technology that is not better, and may not be as good as our own. The record suggests in a longer journey we would have outrun them.”

Elder Stow looked ready to say something, but General Redfern interrupted.  “Our immediate concern is the Hungdin craft.  We picked up their troops easily enough, but their ship and base of operations are invisible to us.  We fear they have gained one technological advantage.  If they have an invisibility screen, they may be the end of us.”

Elder Stow had to think, and everyone allowed him the time without interrupting.  “I am not sure what is safe to say,” he said, softly, and looked at Ibelam who betrayed nothing on his face.  “But I believe it would betray no future to tell you the humanoids have no invisibility.  Their ship is built of the right composite materials and designed to cause your simple radar-like long range scanners to slip right over them, as if they are not there. Their stealth design is well done; perhaps even impressive.  But they do not have even a glamour of invisibility.  I believe I can help you there, but as for what makes a robot into a living being…”  He shook his head, his face filled with uncertainty.  Everyone understood.  It was not his decision, and the Kairos already gave all he could.

###

Several hours later, Elder Stow, Boston, Katie, Artie, and Captain Korman came from the ship with news that they now had the means to detect humanoid ships in deep space.  The one on the ground had also been found.  They discovered Ibelam got the people to start partying without them.  They had a big bonfire with plenty of game cooking away, and Ibelam told stories of his adventures.

Lincoln commented.  “No one in our century would believe a word of it.  I would not believe the stories myself except for two things.  First, we are talking about the Kairos.  As Lockhart said, he sits at the center of the hurricane while everything else swirls around him.  Second, we have four eyewitnesses here who have more or less confirmed the stories, no matter how strange they sound.  And, trust me, some have sounded pretty wild.”

“Never underestimate the veracity of four eyewitnesses,” Alexis agreed.

Decker came back from visiting the perimeter where android soldiers were keeping a sharp eye out for any humanoids or skeletons that might be headed their way.  He interrupted.  “Anybody ever figure out where that Muhamed guy went?”

“We found the guy running from skeletons,” Boston blurted out.

Alexis took up the explanation. “He seemed grateful.  He thanked Allah and the Holy Prophet for being saved. He only had a scrape from a skeleton spear.  Otherwise, he seemed in fine shape.”

“I guess he ran away when the soldiers attacked us,” Elder Stow said, and Sukki nodded.

“We should have made more effort to find him,” Decker said, still thinking about not leaving people behind.

“I figure he is native,” Lockhart said. “I imagine he knows where he is going.”

“Wait.”  Katie interrupted.  “He thanked Allah and the Holy Prophet for being saved?”

“Yeah,” Boston confirmed.  “So?”

“I told you, Allah’s holy prophet won’t be born for another fourteen or fifteen hundred years.”

Everyone got quiet.  Ibelam finally said it.  “So, your Muhamed is from the future.”

“He said he was a chemist from Medina,” Boston remembered.

“Probably a pharmacist.  Maybe from Mecca,” Alexis suggested.  “Someone who could make the life elixir.”

“Probably from our century,” Lincoln added.

“Probably the necromancer,” Elder Stow said it.

“Had to be,” Decker agreed, as the call came that there were some skeletons coming.  Some must have survived getting through the humanoid line.

Lockhart said, “Damn.”  Lincoln looked at Ibelam and wondered why he doubted the truth of any of Ibelam’s stories.  Ibelam just laughed.

************************

MONDAY

Next Time: Avalon 6.3, Stubborn. The travelers find themselves arriving just before the founding of Rome, and they find someone from the future who has been enslaved and does not belong there.

Until next time, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 5 of 6

The travelers made a wide berth around the skeleton army that moved slowly through the wilderness.  When they came to the forest, they turned in. Boston said the Kairos should be among the trees, even if they got off track for the next time gate.  When they came to a meadow, they thought to stop for lunch.  They hardly dismounted, however, when an advanced troop of humanoids caught up to them.

The humanoid soldiers pulled long knives, which they clearly knew how to use.  No one talked.  No one debated.  The humanoids just attacked, and the travelers nearly got caught. Fortunately, Boston and Katie both sensed the approaching soldiers, even if they did not realize how close they were.

Katie and Decker flipped their rifles to automatic.  Boston and Lincoln had their handguns.  Elder Stow, Sukki and Alexis rounded up the horses, while Lockhart turned his shotgun on one that seemed to appear suddenly, and very close.  The travelers mounted and rushed off, even as one humanoid began to shout orders.  A couple of shots from humanoid rifles pierced the woods, but by the time that happened, the travelers were lost among the trees.

The travelers soon broke free of the trees and found a sheltered dip in the landscape to keep the horses.  Then, while the others held the horses, Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Boston went to the tree line, to make sure none of the soldiers followed them.

“They probably had orders not to use their heat rays among the trees,” Lockhart said.  He lumped all alien weapons under the generic, “heat rays”.

‘Fire is not a good weapon,” Decker admitted.  Lockhart looked at Katie to explain.

“A sudden turn in the wind, and you risk getting your own men trapped by the flames.  Plus, when the air fills with smoke, it isn’t easy telling friend from foe.”

“Plus, there is no way to control it,” Decker added.  “A forest like this; a fire would run wild.  It might burn down half the countryside.

“I’m not sensing any soldiers following us,” Boston said, with a shake of her head.  “I should have known sooner, but they don’t feel like human beings, even if they look like us.”

“Hey, Lockhart.”  Lincoln walked up to join the crew.  “Have you seen Muhamed?”

No one had.

###

After getting around the skeletons, Muhamed simple waited for the chance to slip away.  He might have gone for firewood and not come back, if they planned to prepare some lunch.  Instead, the attack of the soldiers proved the perfect opportunity to leave unnoticed. Indeed, he hurried.

Muhamed stayed unaware of the larger events going on around him.  He imagined the army as local men, since they looked like ordinary enough soldiers, in their leather, and they used no weapons of power.  He imagined they were headed to attack one of the cities nearer the coast, so he did not think twice about them.  And he did not imagine there might be another army coming from the other direction.

He heard a voice.  He saw a person in a different sort of uniform.  He saw three of them.  He just started to wonder what he stumbled into, when he vanished.

Muhamed reappeared a hundred miles away, directly in front of the time gate.  Ashtoreth stood there, hands on hips, looking cross.  Muhamed fell to his face and trembled for his life, while the goddess spoke.

“You’re an idiot.  You almost walked right into the Android front line.  I don’t know whatever made me think you might be useful.”  She tapped her foot and demanded, “Say something.”

Muhamed spouted his thoughts, and proved unable to hold them in.  “The skeletons would not follow my commands.  I found your enemies.  They should be ripe for the taking.”

“Silence.”  Ashtoreth shouted, and Muhamed turned ashen white and spit up some bile.  The anger of such a goddess would have killed many.  “They are mere flies—annoying insects to be squashed without a second thought.  But they are being watched by many in the heavens.  I will not be a fool, like you.”

“But the skeletons would not follow my commands.”

Ashtoreth appeared to take a deep breath. “The elixir gives life.  It does not give you mind control.  Fool.  You must catch them in the swamp before you make the hungry swamp creatures live.”

Muhamed said nothing, but he thought, what about my life?  How could he bring the swamp creatures to life and get away before they ate him?

“I am not concerned about your life,” Ashtoreth said, knowing exactly what he was thinking.  “Unless you fail to kill the travelers.  I am tempted right now to torture you for the next thousand years, to start.”

“No, please.  I will kill them, dead.  I will do this.  They are Kafir.  They do not deserve to live.  I will use the elixir to trap them in their worst nightmare.  You know I will do this.”

“I am not known for patience,” Ashtoreth said, and vanished.

Muhamed stayed where he was for a while, and breathed.  But eventually, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and stepped through the time gate and into the next time zone.

###

Artie cried when she hugged her adopted mother Katie.  Katie cried with her.  Dad-Lockhart put his big arms around both of his girls and nearly cried with them, but they were happy tears.  Boston’s eyes teared up, empathic elf that she was, and Lincoln and Alexis held each other and smiled to watch.  Decker and Elder Stow kept one eye and their ears on the receding battle, and one eye on the android troop that followed Artie.  Sukki did not know what to make of it all.  She stayed beside Elder Stow, being shy in front of so many people, even if the androids were not exactly human people.

Finally, the love-fest broke up and Artie called for a young man.  He looked mostly human, but he had some cyborg enhancements here and there. “David,” Artie called him.  “He is about seven or eight generations from my son. Apparently, when the Kairos made me an android again, he left my uterus alone, temporarily.  I was pregnant.”

“I didn’t know,” Katie said, and her face showed both joy and concern.

“I am fully android now, but I gave birth to a son, so I did have the full human experience after all.  I got to be a mom.”  Artie and Katie hugged again, and almost shared some more tears.

“David,” Lockhart put out his hand, and David knew to shake that hand, but he said nothing and kept looking at Artie to explain, even if he knew the stories.

“He calls me Grandma.”  Artie turned to David.  “These are your great-grandparents.”

Lockhart let go of the handshake and reached out to hug David instead.  “Welcome to the family.”

Katie looked at Artie.  “You make me sound so old,” she protested, before she also hugged David.  “You have your grandmother’s look about you,” she said, and turned again to Artie.  “Do I get to spoil him?”

Artie smiled at that thought.  “I spoil him enough,” she admitted.

Decker interrupted.  “You need to pull your troops back.  It sounds like the Humanoid troops have run into the skeletons.”

Elder Stow checked his scanner for confirmation.  “That appears to be the case.”

“Boston.”  Artie hugged the elf.  “And Sukki.  I remember you,” she said, as she hugged her.  “I was hoping you would go with the travelers.  Are you girls taking care of each other?”

Sukki looked at Boston and nodded.

“We leave no one behind,” Decker said.

“I remember,” Artie agreed and smiled for the marine.  “But come. We need help in scanner technology and in code breaking, if you can.  I wish the Kairos could be found.”  She began to walk, and the travelers and her escort followed.

“Artie.”  Katie came up to walk beside her and slipped her arm over Artie’s shoulder.  “Sweetheart. You should not be so stressed.  After more than four hundred years, you are still here.  You must be doing something right.”

Artie cried.  She let loose, and rivers flowed; and these were not happy tears. She did not stop until they got to the android camp.

They found several odd-looking humans in the camp, and only realized what they were seeing when one younger man opened his arms and shouted, “Boston.”

A red-headed streak raced into his hug. “Wow.”  Haniashtart raised her eyebrows at such speed, and a few androids looked equally impressed.

“Ibelam?”  Lincoln had to ask.

“I am,” Ibelam said.  “And these swarthy fellows are my associates. Haniashtart is an elect, like Katie, you know.”  The two women nodded to each other.  “Abdanath is my marine, or the equivalent in this age.”  Ibelam pointed to Decker who appeared to be in conversation with one of the android officers.  “Ahumm is my navigator, and knows the stars, though he has never gotten close to one. Gerbaal is my cook.  He can make anything taste almost good.”

“You mean he can make almost anything taste good?” Alexis said.

“I didn’t say that,” Ibelam said, flatly.

“The android people, maybe,” Ahumm said. “I see what you mean about them being people.  But who are these others?  They look like a strange crew.”  He gave Boston a double stare, having seen her run faster than any human ought to run

“Stranger than you know,” Ibelam said, with a grin.  He raised his hand, and the glamours around Boston, the elf, and Sukki, the Gott-Druk fell away.  He lowered his hand, and the glamours of humanity returned.

Artie stood quietly that whole time, her head lowered before the Kairos.  Ibelam obliged her by stepping up and giving her a big hug.  “I have spoken to Anath-Rama.  She is going to help me remove the humanoids from this world. Meanwhile, she says you have kept her very busy.  Tell me about it.”

Artie nodded.  She introduced General Redfern and his first officer, Captain Korman.  She got stools, a couple of chairs, and several big logs for seats, though some, particularly Ibelam’s crew, were happy to sit on the ground.  Then she spoke.

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 4 of 6

Ibelam called his crew to a halt. Something up ahead appeared to be sneaking through the trees.  Haniashtart cautioned him earlier and had her bow ready, with three arrows in her hand. Abdanath clutched his spear, having learned to trust Haniashtart’s intuition.  He tried to look around the trees.  Gerbaal slipped the copper soup-pot on his head, while Ahumm pulled a short sword for one hand and a long knife for the other.  Gerbaal strung his bow.  A good marksman, as the ship’s cook, Gerbaal had a real talent with a knife, but he learned it was best to keep the enemy as far away as possible.

Ibelam patted the sword at his side, but also had his bow out.  “Spread out,” he said.  “But stay close enough to see me.  If they are Anazi or Androids, I will try to talk, so don’t fire.  If they are Humanoids, you can fire when I fire.”

“But you said they look like us,” Abdanath said, trying to understand.  “Are they not people, even if they are not human people?”  He used the phrase Ibelam used often enough.

Ibelam shook his head.  “Maybe if they talk, but I can’t expect that they will. They are flesh eaters, and they don’t care if it is a deer or your flesh.  And they don’t bother to cook their food.”  Ibelam shook his head.  “Mostly, they do not belong here.  This world is supposed to be off limits.  They come here at their own risk.”

“But you will talk to the others.” Abdanath objected.

“Because I believe they will stop long enough to talk.  I do not expect the Humanoid to be interested in talking.  Their way is war and conquest.  We have dealt with humans like that, often enough.”

“But…”  True enough.  Abdanath could not think of a next question.

“Command decision,” Ibelam, the captain said.  That ended the discussion.  His crew spread out, and after a short way, Ibelam cursed, softly.  The men in the forest looked human enough.  They wore well-tanned leather uniforms, looking for all the world like medieval soldiers on the move.  But they carried rifles; no doubt energy weapons of some sort, and that made them especially dangerous to his group of relative primitives.

Ibelam let one arrow fly.  It went through the man’s neck and he fell without crying out.  Haniashtart duplicated his work on another soldier, but Gerbaal’s arrow hit one in the chest, and he did shout, a high pitched, not-quite-human sound.  It did not matter.  Abdanath had to shove his spear into the belly of one, while Ahumm used both blades to practically take another one’s head off.

A humanoid further down the line fired his weapon and struck a tree.  The tree started to smolder around the hole the weapon made.  Someone shouted, and someone squealed high-pitched words. Ibelam guessed the soldiers were to hold their fire in the woods where they risked setting the whole forest on fire. All the same, Ibelam backed his group away, thinking they wandered too far into the line.

Ibelam lifted his head at a sound. He heard rapid-fire from rifles, pistol shot, and at one point, what had to be the thunder of Lockhart’s shotgun. Then he saw streaks of light come from the distance.  He recognized the Anazi weapons, the same he saw used on the blobs in the ancient days.  It looked hardly different from the weapon Artie carried around with her.

“Why have we moved away from the action?” Haniashtart complained.

“You have my permission to shoot any who come this way,” Ibelam said.  She did not look satisfied, but she got up on a boulder in the woods where she could have a better view and shoot at several angles.  Gerbaal and Ahumm, with his own bow ready, slipped behind trees to watch.  Abdanath still clutched his spear, that he yanked from the belly of the Humanoid he killed.

“In case one breaks through the arrow fire,” he said.  He was one big, well-trained warrior who felt reluctant to kill, even alien flesh eaters. Ibelam imagined the humanoid appearance, looking so much like human beings, did not help.

The wind rose.  Fair Wind appeared beside Ibelam and talked to him like an excited child might talk to her favorite uncle.  “The Androids did not get fooled.  They were waiting for them.  Now the Hungdin are trapped on three sides.  I don’t know who the people are on the other side, though.  Their thoughts are clouded to my mind.  It feels strange.”

Ibelam leaned over and kissed her forehead.  “That’s okay. They are friends of mine.”

Fair Wind paused, grinned a big grin, touched the place Ibelam kissed her before she threw her arms around Ibelam for a big hug.  She projected nothing but joy, before she thought again, and backed up.

“But the best part.  The Hungdin are trying to back out of the trap, but the skeletons are there, behind them.  They are still trying to attack Damascus.” She laughed.

“Skeletons?” Ibelam asked.

“Maybe I should not have said that,” Fair Wind looked down.  “The servant of Ashtoreth brought them back to life, but they would not do what he commanded them.  After all these years, they are still stuck on attacking Damascus.”

“Androids?”

Fair Wind stomped her foot.  “Now you are picking on me.”

“Never.  You are much too sweet and lovely for that.  One day, you will be wise and know all things, enough to make your head hurt.  But that doesn’t have to be today.  Today, just be my Fair Wind, and that will be enough.”

“I will,” she nodded and faded from sight.

Abdanath stepped up.  “News?” he asked.  He knew better than to ask who Ibelam talked to.

“Yes.  Good news.  We have androids counterattacking.  Plus, that cracking sound you hear in the distance is friends of mine.”

“You still have friends…Sir…Captain…?” Haniashtart slid off her rock to join the conversation.

“But the bad news is the skeletons are down that way.”

“Skeletons?” Ahumm groused as he walked up. “It figures.”

“They won’t last long against Hungdin energy weapons,” Ibelam admitted.  “But they might take a few with them.  But here is the thing.  They were brought back to life by the servant of our old friend, Ashtoreth.”

“You don’t mean Miss Bull Horns.” Ahumm said, using his hands to show pretend horns growing out of his forehead. Haniashtart and Abdanath nodded. “It figures,” Ahumm repeated. “Why should something be bad when it can be worse?”

“Captain,” Gerbaal joined the group. “Can I take my helmet off?”  He tapped the soup pot gently.

“Haven’t got a helmet,” Abdanath said.

“Near enough, for a cook,” Haniashtart grinned.  Everyone grinned, and paused with the grin still on their faces.

“Stand and identify yourselves.” Someone, a woman spoke from behind the trees.

Everyone dropped the grins, and Gerbaal chose to leave the helmet-pot on his head.

“Ibelam, Captain of the ship, Sinbad’s Folly,” Ibelam spoke up.  “These are members of my crew.  We mean you no harm.  Who am I speaking with?”

One woman and two men stepped out from behind the trees.  They wore simple uniforms and held handguns of a sort.  It took a moment for the crew to realize these were not human people, because these looked even more human than the Humanoid soldiers.  In fact, Ibelam thought the one in front looked remarkably like Alexis.  She spoke.

“We are the people from the stars, brought down to the earth by a great enemy.  We suggest you move out of this area, because a war may happen here, with weapons of such might and power that you cannot imagine.”  She paused to fire at Haniashtart’s boulder.  A big chunk of rock got sliced off with a great Crack! like a lightning strike.  Ibelam’s crew jumped, but the Alexis imitator holstered her weapon.  “It is for your own safety and protection we tell you to move out of the area.”

Ibelam merely smiled.  “You sound like Lockhart, but you look a little like Alexis.  I love the long black hair.”  He watched the androids pause and look at one another.  They knew those names, and even had the images of the travelers programmed into their minds.

“How do you know these people?”

Ibelam still smiled.  He felt for once he did right.  These people, androids though they be, deserved to live as a free people.  “I have known the travelers since they began their journey through time.  I was there when they saved Artie in the ancient days. But, you know this is a Genesis planet. You do not belong here, but neither do the Hungdin, your Humanoid enemies.  I think you better take me to your leader.  I may be able to help without any more people having to die.”

“Who are you?” one of the men asked.

“I am the Kairos, and in this life, a lowly ship’s captain who doesn’t like to see any more killing than absolutely necessary.”

The men and the Alexis-android all gasped after a fashion.  The woman said, “This way.  You will want to speak to General Redfern.”

“Artie has gone to collect the travelers,” one of the men said.

“General Redfern is going to want to speak to you,” the other man said at about the same time.

Abdanath stepped up beside Ibelam, and offered his thought as they walked.  “I know you avoid unnecessary bloodshed wherever possible.  That is why I don’t mind following your orders.”

Haniashtart, walking on his other side, sighed, but agreed.

Ahumm, one step behind, offered his two bits.  “I see what you mean about people, even if they are not human people.”

Gerbaal interrupted.  “What do they eat?”

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 3 of 6

Artie looked at the three-dimensional map that showed every life form for a hundred miles around, but it did not show the Humanoid battleship.

“Lady Artie,” General RFD 3297, Redfern, came into the open tent to report.  “Repairs are nearly complete, but the light-speed generator is fluctuating in the red zone.  We are a long way from home.”

“We have analyzed the Humanoid weaponry,” the general’s adjutant spoke.  “Their technology is no better than our own.  Maybe a little less.  If they had not surprised us from the back of star Beta 1397, we would have probably beaten them…in a fair fight.”

“But nothing stands still,” Artie spoke as much to herself as to her commanders.  “We are few, and becoming fewer.  When home world was lost, we lost the key to life.  We have built some very intelligent and talented robots, but we are becoming fewer.  We have tried to become more organic, to better replicate, but we have failed there, too.  Meanwhile, these organic humanoids may be countless in number, and they do not appear to be stopping.”

“Grandma…” a young, mostly human cyborg came into the tent.  Artie smiled and put her hand gently to the boy’s cheek.  She was more like the boy’s great-great grandmother.  When the Nameless god changed her back from human to android, he neglected to tell her she was pregnant.  He left her internal system intact and she gave birth to a boy; but that happened over four hundred years ago.  Others followed, and there were sons of sons, and daughters, but it happened slowly.  Now, their very existence seemed threatened.  Her androids might become slaves again to these Humanoids unless they found a way to defeat them.  At least her androids cannot make meat for the Humanoid table.

Artie raised her voice.  “I wish my mom and dad were here.  But at the very least, this is a genesis planet.  It is off limits to all space faring races.  We have no business being here, but neither do the Hungdin.  I have prayed.  I do not believe the gods will permit us to interfere with the normal development of this world.  I have prayed that the Kairos may come.  She, or he may know what to do.”

###

The travelers sat around the fire, tried to get comfortable, and tried not to make Muhamed feel like the center of attention.  They also tried not to think about the space ship they all saw, and who it might belong to. Katie bagged a wild goat, so they had plenty to eat.  Alexis complained about not finding anything more than a few rough greens.  They tasted bitter, even when boiled and spiced.

“Atkins,” Alexis turned up her nose and said no more.

Lincoln got out the database and read for the others.  He had to judge what might not be wise to say in front of Muhamed, but he figured Muhamed, as a local, would not understand half of what he talked about.  In that respect, he shared more liberally than he might have, otherwise.

“The Hungdin, a noble house of the Humanoid empire.  From what I can gather, when the Anazi and Androids fought it out, and the Anazi home world got destroyed, that left a great void in the control of the space ways. The Humanoids came from a planet on the edge of Anazi space, so thy were not ruined and turned to Anazi slaves yet. They garnered much of the Anazi technology, though, and pushed out from their home into the collapsed Anazi space. After roughly three hundred years of struggle with a variety of species, they came out, more or less, at the top of the heap.”

“So, who are they?” Lockhart asked.

“Humanoid.  They look like us, mostly.  Theirs is a medieval society.  Some planets and systems are ruled by a committee of the rich, mostly merchant class.  Most systems are ruled by the noble houses, like the Hungdin.  The have an emperor, though most of the nobility have their own armies.  When they expand their empire, the emperor usually steps in and pays off the noble houses for use of their armies, but takes the bulk of the territory for the crown. I guess that is how you get some planetary systems run by committee.”

“But what are they like,” Katie wondered. “I mean apart from the fact that they look sort of like us.”

Lincoln nodded and frowned as he told them.  “They have very sharp teeth and an internal system that appears able to digest anything that is carbon-based organic.  They do make and use slaves of some species.  They probably learned that from the Anazi.  But some species become lunch.”

Decker spoke plainly.  “Given the level of scientific and technological advancement on Earth at present, I would say we are standing on a lunch planet.”

“They don’t cook their food, either,” Lincoln added.  “They rip and chew.  They must have strong jaws.”

“As do we,” Elder Stow pointed to Sukki’s mouth, as Sukki nodded.  “Bet we have mostly molars, good for fruit and vegetables.  We are not big meat eaters, as you know.”

“Okay,” Lincoln took back their attention.  “But here is the thing.  The Humanoid show up chasing an old Anazi-Android ship.”

“Artie?”  Katie spoke right up and put a hand on Lockhart’s arm, and he nodded. Artie, along with the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, became like practice daughters for the couple, before they married. The goddess Amphitrite, that is the Kairos, even made Artie human for a time.  On the day Katie and Lockhart married, however, Artie returned to her Android self and led her Android people into space to find a world they could make into their home.  “Could Artie be here?”

Lincoln shrugged.  “She is mentioned in the database, but I will have to read more before I can say for sure.  It may just be her people who talk about her.”

“She might not still be alive after all this time,” Lockhart said in as comforting a voice as he could muster. “For us it has been four or five months, about eight time zones.  For her it has been four or five hundred years.”

“I can hope,” Katie said, and Alexis had the good sense to change the subject.  She checked Muhamed’s arm where he had been wounded.

“So, tell me,” she said to him.  “How did you come to be all alone and chased by skeletons, no less.”

“Ahh…”  Muhamed drew out the sound as he settled his mind.  He spent that whole time, up until then, thinking through exactly what lies he would tell.  He knew he needed to stick as close to the truth as possible, to make it believable, while still throwing them off the trail.  People turned to him to listen.

“I am a simple chemist from Medina. It is a small town in the Araba that you have probably never heard of.  I came with a caravan in search of frankincense and myrrh and other such things to make my medicines.  We camped on a field some distance from here, but we did not know it was the site of an ancient battle.  Suddenly, in the morning light, the ancient army, mostly skeletons such as you saw, came to life and began to kill my guides and the others.  We scattered.  I ran back the way we came, and against all hope, I cried for help. Then you came to me, and saved me and healed me.  Allah…and the gods be praised.  I am only sorry I have only my person, and none of my things to thank you properly. I had gold and silver, and I would give it all to you in thanksgiving.”

“Not necessary,” Alexis assured him. “Is there a town or city on the way where we can bring him?” she asked, with a look at Boston.

“Yes,” Boston said, but she looked at Katie and Decker.  Those three went hunting together and took time to discuss their uneasy feelings. Boston’s elf senses told her Muhamed did not exactly tell the whole truth, but she felt uncertain what to ask.  She checked with her eyes.  Apparently, Decker and Katie did not buy the story either.

Lincoln spoke up.  “The necromancer,” he said.  “He must have passed through the field just before the caravan settled in for the night.”

“Or he came in the night,” Lockhart suggested.

“Or he was a member of the caravan,” Elder Stow offered an alternative.

“I do not know if any of the others survived,” Muhamed said, and appeared to grow introspective.  Internally, he adjusted his lies to point a finger at the rude fat man that came across him on the trail and refused to allow him to travel with the caravan unless he got paid in gold.  Muhamed hoped the fat man got eaten by the skeletons.  Then he wondered again why the bones were so hard to control.  He decided the bones needed more flesh on them for him to really control them.  He would escape and move into the future through the time gate, and try again.

************************

MONDAY

Ibelam’s crew and the travelers run into Humanoids and Androids at war, and Muhamed escapes.

Until next time, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 2 of 6

Ibelam climbed to the top of the tree and first looked down to be sure the others could not see him through the branches and leaves.  He put his hand to his forehead to help block the sun and watched as the Anazi ship hovered. They appeared to be searching for signs of the Humanoid battleship that chased them to earth.

Gerbaal stirred the vegetable soup and added some crushed spice to the deer roasting over the fire.  He rubbed it in extra well.  He did not care for the gamey flavor.  Ahumm kept glancing up toward Ibelam, and toward the sun that would set in a couple of hours.  He waited for the night sky with the hope that he could fix their position by the stars.

“Things are different on land,” Ahumm said.  “At sea, I can see horizon to horizon, and the stars all come up in glorious splendor to guide the weary travelers.  On land, all we get is weary.”  He looked again up the tree toward Ibelam.  “Maybe I should climb up there when the stars come out.”

Gerbaal nodded, but said what seemed important to him.  “We should get some good jerky to carry on the trail, once I finish smoking this deer.”

“What trail,” A woman asked, as she and Abdanath returned to the camp.

“Haniashtart thinks the captain is leading us down another rabbit trail and who knows if there is a rabbit at the end of the trail,” Abdanath said, as he set down his spear and shield.  He unstrapped his sword and added, “Then again, he has not failed us yet.”

“This feels different,” Haniashtart said, in all seriousness.  “It feels like two great cats in the wilderness ready to come to blows, and we are, at best, a mouse caught in the middle.”

“I would not mind if Brushy and Riptide were here,” Abdanath said as he took a seat on the log beside Ahumm. Haniashtart plopped down on the ground as she spoke.

“I thought the ogre scared you.”

Abdanath shook his head.  “I’ve never been seasick, but just to look at Riptide makes me want to throw up.”

“Forget it,” Ahumm said.  “Captain had to leave someone he could trust to watch the ship.  Gods know the rest of the crew might as well be pirates.  They are not exactly sailors and merchants.”

“Don’t know why he imagined he can trust an imp and an ogre,” Haniashtart shook her head.

“We could have pulled into Tyre and paid to have the ship taken into dry-dock for repairs, and to give it the once over,” Abdanath suggested.  “We made enough on the last trip to cover that.”

“Still would need someone trustworthy to watch it,” Ahumm disagreed.

“Spoken like a true ship’s pilot,” Haniashtart said with a big, teasing smile.  Gerbaal interrupted before the back and forth got nasty.

“Soup’s ready, and deer is near enough. Get your bowls and cut a piece to chew on.  You’ll feel better after you eat.”  Gerbaal shouted up the tree.  “Captain. Food’s ready.”

“Be there in a bit,” the answer came back down the tree.  “I’m just waiting for this sky ship to land to get their location.”  He looked down again to be sure no one could see him before he traded places with Galena of the Orlan.  An observer would have seen Ibelam, a very tall, five-foot, eleven-inch Phoenician captain, with light brown hair and light brown eyes vanish, to be replaced by a much taller, six-foot, six-inch woman, with long pure white hair and lavender eyes.  Gallena was Orlan, one of the two alien species included in the many lifetimes of the Kairos.  She came from the very far future, besides, so she knew all the science and technology involved in star travel, and only wondered if the Anazi and Humanoid systems at this point in history might be too primitive for her to recognize.

Gallena shrugged.

Martok, the Bospori, the other alien lifetime, was the mathematical engineer.  He could take systems apart and put them perfectly back together, and even improve them in the process.  She lived, technically, as an exobiologist, an expert in human beings and Earth-like eco systems and species.  She shrugged in a very Ibelam way and turned her eyes on the distant craft. Ibelam borrowed her because she had eyes better than an eagle, and had no trouble keeping an eye on the Anazi ship, even staring into the glare of the setting sun.  She had been designed to live on a slightly smaller world that orbited a white dwarf at somewhere between an Earth and Venus distance. Really bright light felt like her friend.  Her eyes could handle it.

“So, we are being alien today to better understand the alien minds?”  A woman appeared beside Gallena and spoke, a grin plastered across her face.

“Fair Wind,” Gallena called the young woman without looking.  “I am simply watching to see where the ship sets down.”  The ship moved again and started down into the trees.

“You know I cannot tell you where,” Fair Wind responded, and lost her grin.  “It is not my place to say what is over the horizon.”

“I know,” Gallena said, and she went away so Ibelam could come back to his own time and place.  “You just be my Fair Wind, and I will be happy.”  He began to climb down.

Fair Wind got her smile back.  “I love being your Fair Wind.”

“And I love you.  Did I tell you today how beautiful you are?”

“No, you did not,” Fair Wind frowned and got serious as she floated along beside Ibelam, watching where he carefully put his hands and feet.  If he fell, she wanted to be sure to catch him.

“You are, very young and very beautiful, and you know I love you very much.”

“Wee…” Fair Wind let out a sound of joy when Ibelam put his foot back on the ground.  She vanished and flew off softly singing some ancient melody.  Everyone heard the rustling in the leaves.

“Fair Wind paid a visit,” Ahumm grumped. “I thought she lived at sea.”

Ibelam sounded serious when he got his bowl and spoon for some of that soup.  “You would think a young goddess would have better things to do than hang out with an old sea captain like me.”

People laughed, some nervously. Ibelam tended to speak of the gods in a very light hearted manner that sometimes sounded irreligious. Sometimes, men ducked, expecting the wrath of the gods to fall any minute.  This did not seem that bad.  They had all met Fair Wind, or at least had seen her.

Ahumm grumped again.  “You are what?  Twenty-five?  That is not so old.”  Ahumm was nearer forty.

“So, what did you see?” Haniashtart asked, since no one else looked like they were going to ask.

“We have a full day’s walk to get there,” Ibelam answered.  “Of course, if they are Anazi, we will have to approach with caution.  But if they are the androids, I have an in with Artie, the queen of the androids.  And if she is there, Anath-Rama might be there as well.”

“My Anath?” Abdanath asked.

“No, her sister, well, sort of…”

“Goddess for the Amazon dead,” Haniashtart said, and shivered at the thought.

“Now, don’t worry,” Ibelam said. “Anath-Rama is a very fine woman, kind and nice, and also watches over the android dead.”

“Wait,” Ahumm looked curious.  “I thought you said the androids were metal constructions, like a human shaped ship.  How could they have a soul?”

“They are people, even if they are not human people.  They have some silicon and carbon parts…”  Ibelam noticed they did not understand.  “Look. You are a construction.  You have parts, like a heart that pumps your blood, lungs that take in air, a stomach that digests your food and gives you energy.”

“If the food doesn’t give me gas,” Ahumm mumbled.

“Androids have the same systems, including a brain that thinks and a mouth that talks, too much in some cases. Your systems are organic.  Their systems may be made of other stuff, but the systems are basically the same.”

“But Anath-Rama is a goddess of the dead.”  Haniashtart could not get over that point.

“And the deer is dead,” Gerbaal interrupted.  “And you need to eat some more for your stomachs to digest and keep up your strength. We can’t carry all of it tomorrow.”

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter, part 1 of 6

After 821 BC Phoenicia. Kairos lifetime 74: Ibelam, the Sailor

Recording …

The dry ground appeared desert-like in every direction.  There were trees enough for shade, but many looked stunted by the conditions.  The travelers moved in a group.  No one wanted to be the rear guard because the dust blew in that direction.  For once, Boston and Sukki did not straggle at the back of the pack.

“His name is Ibelam,” Lincoln said, having read about him in the database.  Alexis and Katie listened, and so did Lockhart, though he kept one eye on the trail ahead.  Boston certainly could have heard with her good elf ears, if she bothered to listen.

“Phoenician, you said.”  Katie wanted to get something straight in her mind.

“I would guess we are in southern Syria,” Lockhart said.

“Or northern Arabia,” Alexis offered an alternative.

“He must be moving,” Boston interjected. “The gate is getting closer on its own.”

“Ibelam?”  Sukki did not seem concerned about where they were.  She just wanted to get the name right.

Lincoln nodded.  “Next to Ibelam it says, see Sinbad the Sailor.”

Lockhart laughed.  Katie took it more seriously.

“Maybe some of those stories started this far in the past.  They were told, originally, long before Mohammed.  They got modified to fit Islam after the fact.”

“After the fact?” Boston asked, and this time Katie nodded.

“Mohamed won’t be born for almost fifteen-hundred years in the future.”

Lockhart spoke his thought. “Sinbad sounds like the Kairos. He sits at the center of the hurricane while everything whirls around him.”

Katie almost said she agreed, but Decker chose that moment to ride in from the wing.  Elder Stow, seeing Decker’s dust, rode in from the other wing.

“Man crying for help up ahead,” Decker showed his binoculars.  “Being chased by what looks like skeleton soldiers.”

“Sinbad must be getting close,” Lincoln mumbled through a slight grin.

Lockhart pointed.  “Decker and Katie with me on the right of that hill up ahead.  Elder Stow, take Sukki to the left.  We need your scanner, but get your weapon ready.  The Patton sabers is about all we have that is effective against skeletons. Fire and wind,” by which he meant Boston and Alexis.  “You go down the middle, and Lincoln, go with the women, sword ready.”

Katie gave Lockhart a love slap in his shoulder.  “And what am I?”

“I should say the other women. You’re with me.”

Katie nodded.  She wanted to be with him.  The riders split up.

###

“Help!”  Muhamed scrambled up the steep, rocky side of the hill.  He almost slipped in his haste, but then he had a thought.  He kicked at the loose rocks in the hope of starting a rock slide.  “Help!”  His cry felt like an automatic reaction to danger.  Like, the word just popped out of its own volition.  He had no idea if anyone might be around to hear him.  It did not appear so.  He picked up a couple of rocks and threw them at his pursuers. The skeletons were not bothered by the rocks, even as he hit one and knocked the arm out of its socket.  The others raised their shields and brandished their swords.  He imagined if they had flesh and blood, they might shout at him.

“Help!”  Muhamed shouted, involuntarily, and turned to resume his run. It hardly mattered.  He would eventually tire and run out of breath.  The skeletons needed no breath.  He stumbled. It proved fortunate. A skeleton-thrown spear tore through his sleeve and scraped his arm, but missed his back.  “Help!” His voice rang out again.

Muhamed glanced at the sky and realized he ran the wrong way.  The time gate lay in the opposite direction.  He seemed headed toward the very people he intended to stop.  The goddess had been very clear about that.  The demoness in the future gave him the elixir of life, and the formula, and showed him how to make it.  The same demoness in the past ordered him to ruin the ones running through time.  She made him able to know the time gates and where to locate them.  She kept him in bondage for several years, but at last she set him free to exact her revenge.

“Ahhh!”  Muhamed threw himself to the ground and covered his head.  A line of flame, like from a flame-thrower, shot over his body and struck the nearest skeleton.  The skeleton began to burn, rapidly, but it did not stop moving. “Ahhh…” A great wind followed the flame.  It knocked two off their feet, and caught in a shield where it picked a third off the ground.  It blew long enough to make the skeleton lose its footing, so it tumbled down the rocky ridge and broke to pieces.  But clearly, the wind proved no more effective than the fire, even if the burning skeleton eventually collapsed.

“Elder Stow,” a young woman’s voice called out.

“Just coming to it,” a man answered.

Muhamed dared to lift his head and watch. His eyes got wide, his mouth opened and he gagged on what he saw.  A line, like a stream of light struck skeleton after skeleton.  They did not move, like being blown by the wind.  They did not burn, like the one struck by the fire. They simply crumbled to dust as soon as they were touched by the light.  The dust, or maybe ash, blew away on the wind like nothing ever existed in that place.

“Such power,” he mumbled, before he shut his mouth.  The witch with the raven-black hair came to him.  He feared what she might do, but she surprised him with her words.

“Are you all right?  Are you injured anywhere?”

Muhamed smiled.  “No, praise Allah and his holy prophet.  I escaped with only this scrape.”  He showed his arm where the bloody cut looked like more than a scrape.

The other witch, the one with fire-red hair ran up.  “Lucky we came along,” she said, while the black-haired witch tore his sleeve to get at the wound.

Muhamed nodded, but said nothing as he could not get his eyes off her red hair.  He understood this one, in reality, was a demon creature of fire and light who only appeared as a red-headed human witch.

“Lincoln, help me,” the black-haired witch called, and a man came to help her get Muhamed to sit up.

“I am fine,” Muhamed assured them. “I am just winded by running so far and so fast.” then he quieted while the black-haired witch worked.

Three people came from one direction, riding on big horses.  The men looked like two giants, one white and one black.  The woman between them appeared a beauty with hair as gold as the sun. Two more walked up from a different direction. One old man, who toyed with a box as he walked, and one broad-shouldered young woman who looked strong enough to wrestle one of the giants.

Muhamed knew these were the people the goddess wanted him to ruin.  He had hoped to do that without being found out, but the skeletons had other ideas. The skeletons did not obey him. Instead, some turned on him.  He wondered if that might have been because they lacked the flesh to properly absorb the elixir…  Muhamed looked at the others and shut down those thoughts. He imagined he needed to be extra careful.  The goddess warned him that these people were clever.  It might be best to not talk at all.  He would listen, and maybe learn something of their intentions.

“Elder Stow?”  The white giant named the old man, but his inflection suggested a question.  The old man appeared to be studying a small box.

“There may be more skeletons,” Elder Stow responded.  “But they are some distance away and appear to be headed in the opposite direction.”

“Robert.”  The one with the golden hair got the white giant’s attention.  “This would be as good a place as any to camp. The steep, rocky incline is a defensive help.”

“Decker?” Robert asked the black giant.

“I agree,” he said.  “We will have to watch our rear and have to back-track in the morning to get down below, but we seem to be doing a lot of backtracking lately, so no big deal.”

“On the other hand,” the golden-haired woman said.  “Being on this little hill, our campfire will be seen for miles, unless Elder Stow sets his screen device on invisible mode.”

“No,” Robert said.  “We need to conserve his battery life.  Katie, why don’t you take Decker and see if you can find something to shoot.  Take Boston with you to give warning, in case some of the skeletons decide to double back. Lincoln, Alexis and I will take the horses tonight.  We better tie them.  There isn’t much to graze around here, anyway.  Elder Stow and Sukki, you can get the fire started, if you don’t mind, and if you can find enough to burn. And take our guest…Does he have a name?”

“Muhamed,” he said.  “Muhamed bin Saladi.”  He looked at his arm where Alexis had been working.  “By the prophet,” he mumbled.  The wound not only stopped bleeding, but it looked closed up and completely healed.  He could still feel it a little, where the cut had been, but it otherwise felt as good as new.  Then he had a second thought

“The magic will not wear off in time and the wound come back.”

“Not that kind of magic,” Alexis said with a small smile.  “The healing is real.”

Muhamed nodded and returned the smile, but he told himself again to be careful.  He did not expect help and kindness from the evil people the goddess described.  Saving him and healing him might be a trick to lure him into their wickedness.  He decided his best bet would be to show gratitude and keep silent, feigning ignorance, until he found a way to escape their clutches.  He stood and helped the old man and the strong young woman gather and stack some wood, and he tried to smile.  He mostly smiled.

Elder Stow and Sukki tried to smile in return, though Elder Stow in particular did not appear very good at it. It felt awkward for them all, before Alexis came back and reported that Lincoln and Lockhart had the brushes and would give the horses a good rubdown.

“Sukki,” she said.  “You need to come with me back down the trail.  We need to see if we can find some fodder for the horses to chew on, and maybe something for us to chew on as well.  The camel we shot and chewed on for lunch is already starting to turn in this heat.  We need to find something, in case Decker, Katie, and Boston don’t find anything better to eat.”

Sukki dropped her few sticks beside the circle of stones Elder Stow started building, and she looked up. They all looked up.  A large space ship of some unknown design shot overhead, headed in the same direction they would have to travel in the morning.

“Fudge,” Alexis said, and she really said fudge.

“Not Agdaline, or Anazi,” Sukki knew that much.

“I am not familiar with the markings,” Elder Stow admitted.

Muhamed stared like a man who had never seen or imagined the like.  He barely kept his mouth from screaming.

Avalon 6.1 Little Things, part 6 of 6

On horseback, the travelers moved faster than on foot and made it back to Valmiki’s ashram in a single day.  Rama seemed happy.  He said he missed his wife.

When they came in, Sita came running out to him and threw her arms around him for plenty of kisses.  The only reason she reached him first was because he had to be careful getting down off the horse.

“You don’t run to me,” Lockhart mentioned with a pouty face.

“I walk fast,” Katie said.  “You are not allowed to be that far away.” Lockhart smiled.

“Children,” Lincoln said.  Alexis also smiled, and leaned over to kiss Lincoln.

After a time, Sita pulled back, excited about something.

“Come.  Lakshme.  Bring your friends.  I have to tell you all about it,” she said

The travelers found places to tie off their horses for the moment, and the women took the seats that remained there from the other night, while the men stood around.  They met Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, and then got quiet to listen.

“The very day you left, I stood for a long time by the path to the forest, awaiting your return.  Silly, I know.  I knew you would be gone for more than a few hours.  But there, I saw the most glorious sight I have ever seen, ever. I saw a deer, all golden.  It looked made of gold, and I thought, if I could just touch it.  It looked so beautiful.  Glorious. I wanted to have it and hold it. I walked very slowly and carefully so as not to frighten it, but when I went near, it became shy and ran away.”

“Golden?  A trick of the light,” Rama said.

“It was no trick,” Sita said. “Lakshmana saw it just today.  I thought it was lost to me, but it came back, not an hour ago.  Isn’t that right?”  Sita looked at Lakshmana, and he agreed.

“Golden, like made of gold,” he said. “But alive, nibbling on the plants.”

“I thought Zeus killed all the golden hind,” Lincoln remarked, out of turn.  That set off Lakshme.

“Shut-up,” Lakshme insisted, and pointed specifically at Katie.  “You especially shut-up.  I don’t want to hear one word out of any of you.”

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Libra all looked at Lakshme with surprise, but after only a second, Sita began to plead with Rama to capture her golden deer.

“I am not hearing this,” Lakshme said. “I am not here.”  She got up to walk out into the compound.

“Where are you going?” Libra asked.

“I have to take my friends to the next place in their journey.”

Lockhart, not understanding what all the fuss was about, said, “Isn’t it getting kind of late?”

“Devi,” Lakshme called, nice and loud.  “Devi, my friend.  Please, I need you.”  Lakshme saw Valmiki coming up from the houses down the path.  “Devi.”

“I am here, my friend,” Devi appeared to Lakshme, but she did not appear to any of the others.  “Why are you so distressed?”

“I have a request.  Would you take me and my friends from the future with their horses and all of their things… and, and Libra to the next time gate? Please, history is happening very fast right now, and we need to not be here, please.”

“But what is it?” Devi sounded concerned.

“Please, if you love me, my friend.” Lakshme put on her most pleading face.

“You know I love you.  I owe you everything,” Devi said, as Valmiki stopped and gave Lakshme a look.

“So, it has gotten to talking to yourself and your imaginary friend Devi in public, I see,” Valmiki said.

Lakshme poked Valmiki in the chest. “I am not here,” she enunciated, slowly, even as she vanished, and the travelers and Libra vanished with her.

###

The travelers ended up somewhere near the Ganges delta.  Devi materialized so all could see her and hear her.  Libra, at least, bowed her head to the goddess, but Devi looked focused on Lakshme.  Devi tried the hands-on-hips routine, and the stern voice.

“Now, what is this all about?”

Lakshme sat down and began to weep. She shook her head, and Libra came to sit and weep with her.  Devi softened.  Katie opened her mouth, but Lakshme shouted.

“Shut-up.  Shut-up.”  Devi felt the surprise the others felt earlier.  “Three days,” Lakshme said more softly.  “Find me in three days.  Libra and I should be on the road somewhere.  I will tell you in three days.”

“All right,” Devi said slowly. “Three days,” and she vanished.

“Why couldn’t we speak?” Lincoln wondered.

“Because it hasn’t happened yet,” Katie said.  She honestly understood.

“What?” Boston asked for everyone.

“Rama goes in search of the deer,” Katie said.  “It is a demon trick—an Asura trick. Lakshmana gets tricked out of his duty to protect Sita…”

“Not the sharpest yo-yo on the string,” Lakshme mumbled.

“Sita gets kidnapped,” Katie finished and turned to Lakshme.  “But it turns out all right.”

“Mostly,” Lakshme nods.  “But you don’t know how hard it is.  Most of the time I have no idea what is going to happen. Usually, the next hundred years or so are a blur, at best.  But every once in a while, something comes to me crystal clear, and you have no idea how hard it is not to say anything.  Maybe you, of all people, will understand soon enough, especially when you know something bad is going to happen, and you could prevent it with a word, but you dare not say anything.”

“I think we can all imagine,” Katie said.

“And you better not say anything,” Lakshme raised her voice.  “You can’t say anything.  Don’t you dare say anything, no matter what… No matter what.” Lakshme cried some more, and Libra dutifully cried with her.

Lockhart looked around.  The sun started getting ready to set.  “Make camp,” he said.

“The time gate is right here,” Boston interrupted.  “Hey!  I thought you couldn’t get near the time gates,” she told Lakshme.  “I thought the one where we entered and the one we exited the time zone stayed equally far apart, with you at the center.”

“Special dispensation,” Lakshme said. “Devi is a brilliant woman, and the right choice to represent all the women on the high council of the gods. The gates should readjust as Libra and I move south.  Tomorrow.”

The travelers nodded, but no one said anything as they looked around at the trees and the sky.

“Standard watch,” Lockhart continued, having already said to make camp.  “We go through in the morning.”

************************

MONDAY

Avalon 6.2 Sudden Encounter.  The travelers meet the necromancer without realizing it, and find space aliens at war… oh, and face some skeletons.  Mustn’t forget the skeleton-zombies.

Until MONDAY, Happy Reading

*